Competition Drives Mill Investments

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), January 2, 2017 | Go to article overview

Competition Drives Mill Investments


Byline: Dylan Darling The Register-Guard

To be competitive in the wood products industry, companies must stay on the cutting edge.

But to get to the forefront, wood products companies must invest in their production facilities to increase automation and efficiency, and to lower manufacturing costs, experts say.

"It's a competitive market," said Jon Anderson, president and publisher of Random Lengths, a wood products industry trade publication based in Eugene. "Unless people are investing in their plants, they're going to fall behind and, ultimately, fall by the wayside probably in the tougher markets."

In the past couple of years, Swanson Group in Springfield, Seneca Sawmill in Eugene, Weyerhaeuser in Eugene, and International Paper in Springfield have made major investments in their facilities totalling about $273 million.

Such upgrades are part of a trend throughout the North American woods products industry, Anderson said. Wood products companies in the Pacific Northwest, Canada and the southern United States have improved their operations, he said.

The improvements can help firms capture market share during strong markets and allow them to stay afloat when the economy weakens.

"It's the more efficient, more productive producer that is going to survive the downturns," Anderson said. "We're not in a downturn now, but most of these operators have gone through ups and downs in their time, and they are going to get ready for the next one."

Seneca renovation nearly complete

Seneca Sawmill on Highway 99 in Eugene is nearing the end of a major facilities renovation, including the installation of new kilns, revamping its shipping and loading facility and expanding its log yard.

Early this year, the company plans to upgrade its planer, the equipment that smooths lumber. By the time it's finished, the firm will have spent $63 million on improving its operations.

Seneca, established by the late Aaron Jones in 1954, has 430 workers, most at the Eugene sawmill.

The sawmill produces dimension lumber, such as 2-by-4s and other boards used in home construction.

The upgrades are allowing Seneca to shift its focus from green to dry lumber, said Chief Executive Todd Payne. Green lumber contains more moisture than dry lumber. The home building market is demanding more dry lumber, which is created by heating boards in massive kilns. The new kilns at Seneca are part of the firm's response to the changing demands of the market.

Seneca improves its facilities, partly because its competitors do the same, Payne said.

"We've got to remain competitive because it is a national wood basket," he said. "And, of course, we want to employ the latest of technologies to help us get a better yield (and) higher value recovery for each log that we process through our facilities."

Anderson started with Random Lengths in 1974, and has been its president and publisher since 1984. …

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